dessert

Pawpaw Kulfi

Kulfi is a velvety-rich milk dessert, and I will always remember pista (pistachio) kulfi, sold at the 100-year-old Irani creamery in Mumbai, for its vivid green color and dense consistency. Churned ice cream has air pockets that create fluffy lightness; but in kulfi,  reduced milk produces an impenetrable creamy thickness. Plain milk (malai) or pistachio are the two most common flavors, but you’ll usually see mango kulfi during the short season of the prized Alphonso mango — as everybody tries to extend the flavor of this fast-ripening fruit. When I was given a pawpaw at Ferderber Farms in Pennsylvania, the farmer’s wife pointed out its similarity to two tropical fruits of my childhood, mango and custard apple. The pawpaw also shares a small window of time when the fruit is at its best, and I created a pawpaw kulfi to prolong this summer treat.

Native to Pennsylvania and the Eastern part of the country, pawpaw has floral notes and a green outer skin that is like that of a mango. The pale silk-colored flesh, complete with several large black seeds that neatly run through its middle, is similar to custard apple. Pawpaw is an ancient fruit tree, although it has been less popular for awhile. However, if you are in the Pennsylvania area, keep an eye out for this fruit.: Pawpaw is delicious on its own, and can also be substituted in any recipe that uses mango.

Pawpaw Kulfi

Whole milk – 2 cups

Evaporated milk – 1½ cup

Condensed milk – ¼ cup

Cardamom pods – 3

Pawpaw – 1, peeled, flesh mashed

Unsalted pistachio nuts – crushed for decoration

  • Add the milk and evaporated milk to a cast iron pan. Bring to a boil, and then immediately lower the heat to simmer. Stir continuously for the next five minutes. Fold in any milky film that forms on the surface.
  • Add the condensed milk and the cardamom pods. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring continuously. The milk will thicken as it reduces in volume.
  • Remove from heat.
  • While the milk is still hot, add the mashed pawpaw, stirring until well incorporated.
  • Discard the cardamom pods.
  • Let the kulfi cool to room temperature.
  • Once cooled, pour the kulfi into small individual glass cups or molds and cover with aluminum foil. Alternatively, pour into a large stainless steel container with a lid. Freeze for about eight hours.
  • When ready to serve, dip the individual moulds into hot water, allowing the hot water to come up the sides and loosen the kulfi from the mold. Serve immediately.
  • Decorate with pistachio slivers.

 

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Jalebi: A Sweet Confection

One way of finding out if your favorite foods are worth their calories is to make the dish at home – an eye opener in realizing how much oil, sugar, or salt goes into dishes that you crave. For Valentine’s Day, I planned on treating myself to a dessert that I had only ever bought. Similar to a churro or beignet (in that the fried dough is coated with sugar), a jalebi is a spiral-shaped sunset-colored Indian dessert that features a crispy outer shell harboring a juicy syrup within. The orange or yellow glow comes from the sugar syrup that is tinted and perfumed by aromatic saffron (or less expensive turmeric and sprinkles of cardamom powder).

There are two parts to making jalebi – the batter and syrup. The batter can be hurried along by adding yeast or baking soda, but just using yogurt will also give jalebi the desired tangy flavor. As expected, without a leavening agent and the cool temperature, my dough took two days to rise. But it was the sugar syrup that had me baffled. Simple syrup, ubiquitous in sweet lemonade and cocktails, is dissolved sugar and water that is heated for about 4-5 minutes. As the sugar solution starts to thicken into viscous syrup, it develops a glossy sheen before taking on a thread-like consistency. For jalebi, the syrup should have a half-thread consistency. Without a candy thermometer, this stage can be assessed by feel: Rub a little of the hot sugar solution between the thumb and forefinger, and then carefully lift the thumb away from the forefinger to see if a thin, transparent string forms. When this sugar thread is ¼-inch high, the syrup is ready. If the syrup is too thick, the fried dough will not absorb the syrup but instead be coated with sugar crystals.

Tips To Prevent Crystallization:

  • Use a clean pan. Any particles in the pan will allow sugar to crystallize on to it.
  • Don’t agitate the sugar solution. Let the sugar dissolve with minimal stirring.
  • Keep the heat on medium, and let the sugar come to a boil slowly.
  • While checking for the thread formation, remove the pot away from the flame so that the mixture doesn’t continue to cook.

Jalebi

Batter:

Flour – 1 cup, sieved

Yogurt – ½ cup

Syrup:

Sugar – 2 cups

Saffron strands – 4-5 (or 1/8th spoon turmeric for color)

Lime – 1, juice

Vegetable Oil – enough for 2-inch layer for frying

  • In a glass bowl, mix the yogurt and flour.
  • Add a little water to the flour and yogurt and mix. Remove all lumps for a smooth batter, by adding water in small increments.
  • Cover and keep aside for 1-2 days, depending on outside temperature.
  • The batter will not rise as one with a leavening agent, but will develop a shiny surface. You can add ½ tsp yeast for the batter to rise quicker.
  • When the batter is ready, spend 5-8 minutes working with the batter, Knead, gather, and stretch the batter, until the batter feels soft and silky. Add as little water as possible, just enough to get the batter to a thick, pouring consistency.
  • Spoon mixture into a piping bag. I often just cut a hole in a Ziploc bag or pour the batter into a mustard or ketchup container squeezing out the batter through the small hole in the cap.
  • Meanwhile, add the sugar and water to a very clean pan. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Heat the mixture, and once it has a shiny glossy appearance, add the limejuice. This helps gather the frothy scum, which can be discarded.
  • Add the saffron threads to the heated solution to give the sugar the characteristic orange tint.
  • Keep the sugar solution at medium heat and allow it to thicken to a half-thread consistency (makes a small thread between the forefinger and thumb as you slowly lift the sugar solution between the fingers). Keep at this temperature.
  • Heat the oil.
  • Pipe in the dough directly into the hot oil.
  • When the bubbles of hot oil around the dough become less agitated, turn the dough over. Let it lightly brown and then remove immediately. With one smooth motion, while tapping away the oil, dunk the fried dough immediately into the sugar solution. Let it soak for a minute before removing and plating it. Eat immediately for best flavor.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Trending Now: Aquafaba (Liquid From Cooked Chickpeas)

My first attempt at making a chickpea curry was a disaster. At the end of the evening, my aunt gently reminded me to pre-soak the beans before cooking them. Ever since that rock-hard-chickpea incident, I’ve resorted to using canned cooked chickpeas, and generating a lot of discarded liquid in the process. Until now. Aquafaba, the residual liquor from cooking chickpeas, works perfectly as an egg substitute – a boon to those with an egg allergy or a vegan with a sweet tooth.

Aquafaba, from the Latin aqua (water) and faba (bean), is a more attractive name to give the liquid from a legume. This viscous amber-colored liquid is rich in starch and protein plant material that is drawn out from the legume during cooking. Aquafaba whisks into a binding agent for use in cakes or froths up as foam in drinks. Its neutral flavor doesn’t compete with other ingredients when substituted for eggs in mayonnaise or meringue. Goose Wohlt, an American software engineer, is widely recognized as the person responsible for both the name and making the first stable vegan meringue in 2015.

Aquafaba can be made from canned chickpeas. However, using dried chickpeas eliminates the added salt and preservatives found in the canned version.

Aquafaba

Dried chickpeas – 2 cups

Salt – 1 tsp

  • Wash the dried chickpeas with several changes of fresh water.
  • Drain in a colander.
  • In a fresh bowl, add the chickpeas, 6 cups of water, and salt. Leave it to soak overnight or for about 13-15 hours.
  • Pour the contents of the bowl into a cooking pan.
  • Boil the chickpeas for 1¼ – 1½ hours. Check the chickpeas halfway into cooking time for the frothy scum that rises to the top. Using a spoon and in one continuous motion, scoop out as much of the froth as possible.
  • Chickpeas are ready when they have no crunch but are firm to the touch.
  • Strain the chickpeas, reserving both the chickpeas and golden-colored liquid or aquafaba.

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One of my new favorite drinks is the Peruvian Pisco Sour – but the cocktail was hard to make for a large holiday party. It would have been a challenge to separate so many eggs and keep the egg whites at an optimal temperature. Substituting aquafaba for egg whites addresses these concerns, and is suitable to serve both vegans and worriers (regarding raw eggs) alike. Cheers!

Pisco Sour

Pisco – 3 oz

Aquafaba – 2 tbsp

Simple syrup – 2 ½ -3 tbsp (depending on taste)

Lime juice – 4 tbsp

Crushed ice – ¾ – 1 tbsp

Angostura Bitters – 2-3 drops (optional)

  • Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker.
  • Add the crushed ice. Shake vigorously.
  • Pour in thirds (to create as much foam as possible) into a short glass. Serve immediately.

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Note: Use the cooked chickpeas to make a simple Italian appetizer with garlic and chili powder, chickpea curry, or process into a smooth hummus.

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Watermelon Rinds – For Curry And Dessert In A Hurry

Melons, squash, and gourds add hearty consistency to vegetarian dishes over the different seasons. Summer melons have high water content, and therefore have a mild taste. Watermelon rinds are similar to summer melons: their spongy surfaces readily soak up spices or absorb milk and sugar to make two different kinds of dishes. I took advantage of this feature to make a quick and easy vegetable side dish with bold flavor and a dessert enhanced by the rind’s inherent sweetness.

For the vegetarian side dish, the nutrient-rich watermelon rinds received a boost of flavor from one of my favorite spice combinations called panch phoran (five-spice mixture). Panch phoran, which comes from the Eastern states of India, is a combination of whole (mustard, fenugreek, nigella, cumin, and fennel) seeds. Unlike ground spices, which become stale if not used quickly, these seeds keep fresh for a long time and are a good spice blend to stock in a kitchen. The whole seeds burst in hot oil, releasing aromatics to give the watermelon rinds an instant pop of nutty, peppery pungency, and anise flavors.

As for dessert, I borrowed from a tradition of cooking vegetables (most commonly bottle gourd and carrots) in milk and sugar to make halva. The texture and color of the peeled and cubed watermelon rinds were similar to the long green bottle gourd, which is also used in both savory and sweet dishes. The watermelon rinds when cooked in milk have a gooey consistency; similar to rice that has absorbed the milk in rice pudding. Halva is garnished with nuts for a crunch and perfumed by freshly ground cardamom.

Watermelon Rinds In A Curry

Watermelon rinds – 2 cups, cubed

Panch Phoran (whole spice mix) – 2 tbsp

Garlic cloves – 5, peeled and finely sliced

Ginger – 2-inch piece, peeled and grated

Chili – 2, sliced

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Kosher salt – to season

Vegetable oil – 2 tbsp

  • Heat vegetable oil in a wok or pan with a lid.
  • Add the panch phoran spices to hot oil. In a few seconds, the seeds will start to explode.
  • Immediately add the garlic, ginger, and chilies and sauté for about 1-2 minutes, until they are lightly browned.
  • Add the watermelon rinds and stir-fry, until the rinds are coated with the spice mixture.
  • Lower the flame and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes or longer, until the rinds are soft. Stir occasionally during cooking. Add a ¼ cup of water to the mixture if the rinds are not ready and there is no water in the pan.
  • Serve warm.

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Watermelon Rind Halva

Watermelon rinds – 2 cups, cubed

Milk – 2¼ cups

Sugar – 8 tbsp

Cardamom – 4 whole pods

Butter or ghee – 3 tbsp

Toasted Nuts – 1 tbsp

  • Add the rinds and milk in a cast iron pan and cook on low, until the rinds become soft.
  • Continue to cook, stirring until the milk has evaporated. Mash the cooked rinds for a mashed potato-like texture.
  • Add the cardamom pods and sugar. Stir until sugar melts. Continue to cook for about five more minutes.
  • Remove from heat and while still hot, add butter.
  • Serve hot or cold. Garnish with toasted nuts.

 

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Mango Shrikhand – Yogurt And Mango Dessert

In my experience when writing a regular food blog, often two disparate food-related events culminate in a new recipe or a twist on a memorable flavor. This time around, it was a case of overripe mangoes in addition to excess yogurt from experiments with a starter culture. Combining these two ingredients brought back memories from my childhood in Bombay of a wholesome, custardy dessert – shrikhand.

Shrikhand (pronounced shreek-ind), from the western states of India, combines the velvety richness of thickened yogurt with hints of warm floral notes from saffron and cardamom and a crunchy finish of pistachio nuts. Similar to ricotta, the creamy strained yogurt also complements pureed fruits, which gave me the idea to pair it with mango. When I was young, my father would bring home a small box of freshly-churned shrikhand made at a roadside stall. This unpretentious shop was exactly what today’s gourmet hopes to find, tucked in a market selling everything from vegetables to plumbing equipment. At that time, shrikhand was expensive as the ingredients were all top quality; which is why we only ever received a small box! Making shrikhand at home was much easier than I had expected, and perfectly recaptured the taste of my memory. The silky, thick consistency of the strained yogurt pairs well with mango’s natural sweetness.

Shrikhand

Yogurt (32 oz) – 1

Mango – 1, peeled and pureed

Superfine sugar – 2 tbsp + more if needed

Saffron strands – 3-4

Milk – 1 tbsp

Cardamom powder – ½- ¾ tsp

Pistachio nuts – 10, lightly crushed

Cheesecloth or muslin

  • Strain the yogurt through a cheesecloth. Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together to form a bag. Suspend the bag high over a bowl, such that the whey liquid can drain out without touching the bag.
  • Peel, slice, and puree the mango. Put the mango pulp in a colander, to drain any excess juice.
  • Warm the milk for 10 seconds, and add the saffron strands. The milk should turn a warm yellow color in about 5-7 minutes.
  • Combine the strained yogurt, mango, sugar, saffron milk, and cardamom powder. Whip them together with a fork or whisk, until smoothly combined.
  • Divide and serve in small, individual ramekin- sized bowls.
  • Garnish with a few pistachio pieces.

Note: Use the best quality saffron and cardamom that you can get, as these flavors are subtle. Try the original shrikhand recipe (which uses no fruit) if you don’t have mangoes, adjusting sugar according to your taste.

 

 

 

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Seder Dinner: Communal Meal

During this Passover season, I was invited to share the Seder dinner at my neighbor’s table. The traditional Passover meal is grounded in history, and all of the food components have symbolic meanings. The Seder plate comprises foods that serve as stand-ins to retell the story about the journey from slavery to freedom. One plate around which people gather together has the all the makings of a communal meal, which happens to be my favorite blog theme (fondue, shabu shabu, injera, and raclette)!

As the dinner progresses from past to present, I wanted my contribution to honor traditions. As grain and flour are absent at a Passover meal, and eggs, orange, nuts signify new beginnings; I combined as many of the ritual foods to end on the sweetness of hope.

Orange Tart

(Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Lemon-Almond Tart)

Eggs – 4

Ground almonds – ½ cup

Sliced almonds – ½ cup

Cream – ½ cup

Sugar – ¾ cup

Oranges – 1 ½, juice and zest

Butter – 2 tbsp

Powdered sugar – for decoration

Kosher Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Heat the oven to 375ºF.
  • Process the almonds in a food processor to a fine flour-like texture.
  • Juice the oranges and zest the skin.
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl.
  • Add the almonds, cream, sugar and zest to the bowl. Mix well.
  • Add the orange juice and mix.
  • Melt the butter in an ovenproof skillet. When the butter has melted, add the egg-almond mixture. Cook until the sides of the egg mixture start to firm up.
  • Remove from the stove and transfer to the hot oven.
  • Cook for 10-12 minutes, until the mixture is lightly browned.
  • Remove and set it under the broiler for 30-40 seconds, for a caramelized brown.
  • Decorate with powdered sugar.

 

Happy Passover!

 

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Cake Pops With Girl Scout Cookie Flavors

When spring rolls around, I always look forward to receiving my pre-ordered Samoas Girl Scout cookies. However, this year I missed the Girl Scout Troops selling the boxed cookies outside local groceries due to the crazy weather. When my craving for coconut and caramel cookies took over, I decided to recreate all of my family’s favorites – Samoas, Thin Mints, and Tagalongs.

Knowing it would be impossible to remake Girl Scout cookies, I decided to take a different angle. Hoping to capture the cookie’s essence with minimum fuss, I planned to change up both shape and texture. A cake pop is sufficiently different, and yet its firm shape can be coated with any desired flavor. Cake pops are rolled cake crumbs with a lollipop stick or skewer inserted through them. Baking one cake makes many cake pops. I thought that a pound cake would be a better option than shortbread, with fewer calories and a neutral flavor that showcases the variety of glazes. My attempts with store-bought boxed cake mix was satisfying – an instant fix to a craving!

Boxed Pound Cake Pops

  • Make the cake according to the instructions on the box.
  • When the cake is completely cooled, crumble the cake finely with your fingers.
  • Compact the crumbs into firm balls. (To avoid adding calories, I skipped adding icing or cream cheese to the crumbs, usually done to better hold the shape.)
  • Freeze the cake crumb balls for 1½ -2 hours.

For The Flavoring:

Caramel, Shredded Coconut, and Dark Chocolate Chips, Mint M&M, And Peanut Butter Chips

  • While the cake is baking, use separate shallow containers to melt your chosen toppings. I used: caramel, dark chocolate chips, mint M&M, and peanut butter chips.
  • Add cream or milk to the melting chips in order to get a runny consistency.
  • Add shredded coconut to melted caramel.

Assembly:

  • Lightly coat a sheet of waxed paper with a touch of butter.
  • Remove the frozen cake balls when they are firm. Insert the lollipop stick through their centers.
  • Roll the cake pop in the melted toppings.
  • I used caramel and coconut for Samoas, further topping each with a fine sliver of melted dark chocolate over the cake pop, melted mint M&M for Thin Mints, and melted peanut butter chips for Tagalongs.
  • Let cool on the waxed paper.

    Note: I also tried the same melted coatings on sugar cookies.